162. Message From the President’s Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs (Haig) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) in Moscow1

Sitto 46. Bunker has concluded meeting with Thieu and Thieu agrees to plenary announcement at 7:30 pm Tuesday.2 As I suspected, he was a little sticky on appearance of cave and I had told Bunker to hit strongly on the implication of your Moscow visit.3 Thieu was satisfied and will support action but does expect strong inference that visit to Moscow was directly related to Vietnam situation. Thieu also agreed with 20,000 withdrawal increment which he was told may be made as early as Wednesday this week.

Second shoe has apparently dropped in MR–2 where ARVN Twenty Second Division was badly mauled in Dak to area over preceding 48-hour period. ARVN have withdrawn forces from Rocket Ridge and Dak to area and situation is cloudy as of this report. Enemy again picked period of bad weather in which to launch his assault. Situation in An Loc has improved substantially and activity in MRS 1, 3 and 4 has dropped off substantially. In an interesting action off the coast of Cambodia, GVN naval units challenged an unmarked trawler which they had been trailing. Trawler dashed for high seas raising ChiCom flag. GVN Navy fired warning shots, then put one round into vessel which immediately generated massive secondaries which sunk vessel. All of crew were picked up except for captain. They were North Vietnamese and South Vietnamese personnel.

Guay just called and confirmed that North Vietnamese have agreed to make May 2 session.4

It was evident throughout yesterday afternoon and after sending his personal message to you5 that President and his entourage at Camp David [Page 627] were increasingly concerned about wisdom of Moscow trip. Consequently, I proceeded to Camp David at 7:30 pm last night and spent two intense hours with the President,6 during which I made the following points:

We are substantially better off as a result of your trip whether or not Moscow does anything to help on South Vietnamese situation.
President would have been faced with crunch on South Vietnam with or without trip and trip has added immeasurably to his flexibility by either garnering Soviet pressure on Hanoi or in worse case by establishing base of reasonableness on your part which would permit further escalation if required.
In PR sense, I attempted and I believe with some success, to dispel his concerns that trip combined with announcement of return to plenary would look like U.S. cave. I made point strongly that trip, combined with plenary, if appropriate mystery is maintained, will look to be a hopeful sign by most Americans and especially by vociferous critics who cannot but be disarmed.
I made point strongly that your consultations with the Soviets could not but add to the restraint that the Soviets would show as we move up the escalation ladder. On the other hand, I made it clear that this restraint could not be precisely measured and this question poses risks which cannot be taken lightly.

The attitude that I found was one which was closely related to the summit and the President–KissingerRogers triangle. There was a nagging concern that you wanted to visit Moscow for summit purposes. I recalled statement made by Dobrynin to you that Soviets wanted to be helpful and that they had stated that the reduction of shipments by them to North Vietnam would not be felt for three months. I also explained forcefully the gamesmanship being played by Rogers on the SALT business. What he apparently did, with some help from Smith, was to convey to the President that the Soviets were prepared to meet fully our position on SALT. I believe Smith told this to Rogers on the telephone and, in fact, interpolated way beyond what Semenov had given to him. I pointed out to the President that what was accomplished here was purely a result of the discussions in the special channel between you and Dobrynin and the meeting between the President and Dobrynin.7 What really had the President concerned was his interpretation of your earlier message to the effect that you had worked out a preliminary progress statement with the Soviets which was planned to be released prior to the summit.8 I believe President thought that this would give credit to your visit for the progress rather than to hold in [Page 628] accordance with what has always been your game plan to getting the breakthrough when the President actually visits Moscow. You have again suggested this to him and should be aware of the problem that this poses for him personally. When I left Camp David at 9:30 pm last night, Haldeman said that discussion had been most helpful and that President felt much more sanguine about the situation. What we have really been confronted with back here is a period in which the President had begun to really appreciate the seriousness of the challenge which he faces on the Vietnam issue. He somehow linked this with the Soviet visit. I made it clear to him that this challenge developed with the North Vietnamese offensive and that with or without Moscow he was faced with some very difficult choices. The decision to proceed to Moscow merely flowed from the basic realities that Hanoi, with or without Moscow acquiescence, had chosen this time to throw down the gauntlet. What your visit accomplished even in the worst case was to garner additional flexibility and increased options for subsequent Presidential action. Even Haldeman seemed to be wedded to President’s view and I believe it is essential that you maintain this perspective in your discussions upon arrival. The other hangup with which you will be faced is the President’s concern that the announcement of the return to the plenary following the announcement of your visit will look like U.S. cave.

Like you, I am confident that this can be managed if Presidential statement planned for Wednesday at 7:00 pm brings all the actions taken into proper context. This should not be a difficult PR task.

We are proceeding with notification schedule.9 I have taken care of Cromer and spoken personally to Watson and, as outlined above, Thieu and Bunker are fully on board. Please advise as soon as possible on text of Tuesday’s noon announcement which you worked out with Soviets Sunday.

If there is any physical stamina in your party after what must have been the most grueling physical and psychological experience of your incumbency, you will wish to have Win draft some remarks for the President’s Wednesday presentation. He plans about a ten-minute television talk, limited to 500 words. I gave him a draft, worked up by Holdridge and myself over a two-hour period yesterday afternoon which is not much good.10 Speech should certainly tie in what has happened, the degree of restraint we have exercised, the military situation, [Page 629] the diplomatic play over this last weekend, the troop withdrawal announcement and what we intend to do in the period ahead.

Please give us ETA as soon as it is firm. President will wish you to go directly to Camp David and return here with him.

Warm personal regards.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 21, HAK’s Secret Moscow Trip Apr 72, TOHAK/HAKTO File [2 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive; Exclusively Eyes Only; Flash.
  2. April 25. This agreement was reported in backchannel message 0073 from Bunker to Haig, April 24. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 414, Backchannel Files, Backchannel Messages 1972, From: AMB Bunker—Saigon [Part 2])
  3. Haig issued these instructions in backchannel messages WHS 2052 and WHS 2053 to Bunker, April 23. (Ibid., Backchannel Messages 1972, To: AMB Bunker—Saigon)
  4. Guay confirmed this report in a backchannel message to Haig on April 24. (Ibid., NSC Files, Box 1041, Files for the President, Vietnam, USNVN Exchanges, January– October 5, 1972)
  5. Document 157.
  6. See also Document 158.
  7. Reference is to the meeting, which Nixon briefly attended, between Kissinger and Dobrynin on March 17; see Document 62.
  8. See Document 145.
  9. Reference is to plans to notify Allied leaders of Kissinger’s secret trip.
  10. The first two drafts of the speech, with handwritten revisions from Nixon and Haig, are in the National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Special Files, President’s Personal Files, Box 74, President’s Speech File, Wednesday, April 26, 1972, Vietnam Report.